Student agency refers to students taking ownership and an active role within their learning process and community. Schools nurture conditions for student agency in all grade levels from PreK through 12 and in all content areas through:
Meaningful and engaging learning opportunities - relevant to their current and future interests, needs, and aspirations;
Seeking student voice in curriculum and learning design;
Providing a learning environment that empowers learners - to take responsibility in their own learning, engage in peer feedback, and lead change efforts in and out of school;
Personalizing learning for diverse interests, learning styles, and experiences; and
Supporting students’ development of social and emotional, critical thinking, metacognitive, and executive function skills.
Providing opportunities for student agency requires all school and community stakeholders to hold shared beliefs in students’ capacity to lead and participate in shared decision-making around their learning process and community.
Research has shown that students are more engaged when their learning experiences are relevant to their lives, needs, and interests, and when they are actively engaged in creating, understanding, and connecting to knowledge (McCombs & Whistler, 1997).
Helping students build their capacity to take an active role in their education and develop leadership, goal-setting, problem-solving, and collaboration skills are essential as they pursue their future aspirations in college, career, and community.
Complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity are projected to be the top three skills workers will need according to the Future of Jobs Report 2023.
Student agency engages learners as active participants in the decisions about how and what they learn and how that learning is assessed. The instructor’s role is to provide instruction and opportunities for students to build skills and attitudes that foster a culture of responsibility, excellence, and collaboration. As learners and instructors work collaboratively to build student agency, student voice can be used to inform curriculum and learning design. Strategies for developing student agency may include the following:
Learners have opportunities and support to collaborate with others to engage in peer and self-assessment.
Instructors encourage learners to do more discovery learning and to learn from each other.
Instructors support learners in setting goals, tracking progress, and planning next steps to build students’ ownership of their learning.
Learning experiences are connected to the learner’s prior knowledge and experience as well as relevant and meaningful to the learner.
More Information on Student Agency
Examples of Student Agency in Action
p4c Hawai‘i (Philosophy for Children)
Hawai‘i Public Health Institute Youth Council
A group of young leaders in high school or college who are ready to FIGHT back against Big Tobacco.
Hawai‘i State Student Council
Upholding the ideals of servant leadership while working to improve education, life and welfare in Hawaii’s public schools.